The "good tidings of great joy" announced by an angel to Judean shepherds have resounded through the ages: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11.)
No greater, more joyous, hopeful or comforting message has ever been uttered. Yet at Christmas time, its import can be lost, supplanted by the colorful revelry of holiday celebration.Here are two accounts of ways Church members have found to focus their minds on the Savior as the central figure of their Christmas observance.
At a meeting for new docents held by the Relief Society general presidency and board, Mary Lou Burgoyne first received the motivation - and inspiration - to paint "The Holy Family," reproduced on the cover of this week's Church News.
"They challenged us to consider something special to do for the coming Christmas season - something even in the way of decorating that would more abundantly bring the spirit of Christ into our homes," Sister Burgoyne recalled.
"As I thought about what I could do in that respect, I decided I would really like to have a painting of the Nativity to hang in our home - and that I would like to paint it myself."
She gathered pictures as reference material, but they did not quite match what she saw visualized. Some of the pictures had only Mary with the baby. Others showed Joseph a little way off.
"The feeling I wanted to represent was a close family - a touching, loving family with father included as an important part of that family," she explained.
Finally, she asked her son and daughter-in-law to pose with their new baby for photographs from which she could draw for the painting. They dressed in robes with cloths over their heads for the camera shots.
"Of course, I didn't attempt to get their faces," Sister Burgoyne said. "I wanted it to be Mary and Joseph, not Randy and Dani."
She gathered pictures of animals and relied heavily on her imagination, until she felt good about the composition for the painting, to be produced on a 24- by 30-inch canvas.
"It was an exciting painting to do," she said, "and there is no doubt that I did receive special inspiration during its creation. I felt so very close to our Savior, Jesus Christ, as I painted. Many thoughts went through my mind, such as the feelings Mary and Joseph must have felt as they held this precious babe for the first time - actually knowing that he was the literal Son of God. Past remembrances of my own experiences surfaced. Holding my own newborns - knowing they were sent directly from our Heavenly Father's arms to mine. Could it be that Mary and Joseph's feelings were similar."
In her painting, the donkey plays a significant role, Sister Burgoyne said. She noticed after the background was "laid in" that the donkey seemed to be standing as a sentinel at the door of the cave, it being lighter in that area, "faithfully guarding the precious souls inside."
The single support beam, Sister Burgoyne said, "signifies that this child, our Savior, is the stability and support of the world; the empty manger, that His great mission and message to the world would be delivered as an adult; and the lamb signifies the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Even the hay and water are the plenty the Lord provides for us as we are valiant in His service and allow ourselves to be directed by Him."
She expressed gratitude for the suggestion by the Relief Society general officers to decorate in a more spiritual way. "My own testimony and understanding seemed to increase regarding the divine nature of our Savior, His mission and His atoning sacrifice in our behalf," she said. "The painting does add a special, sacred feeling to our home. To me, the feelings of closeness and inspiration, the whisperings of the Spirit I experienced, and still feel as I re-live the process of producing this painting, which I have chosen to call `The Holy Family,' are priceless treasures."
Sister Burgoyne and her husband, Charles, have served seven months of an 18-month mission, assisting the Europe West Area presidency in Frankfurt, Germany.
Traditions integrated into their holiday celebrating have helped the family of Bishop Kenneth A. Brown Jr. focus on Christ at Christmas time.
Those traditions include going as a family to Temple Square and sitting at the foot of the Christus statue in the North Visitors Center, where the tape-recorded words of Christ are played over loudspeakers.
"Always on Christmas Eve, we read the story of the Savior's birth from Luke during a family fireside," said Bishop Brown of the Eastmont Ward, Sandy Utah Central Stake.
A significant event in the Brown household is associated with Christmas. Daughter Crystal, eldest of their five children, was born to Bishop Brown and his wife, Lori, on the first Christmas after their marriage in February 1979.
"She was due on Jan. 1, but she came early so she could be here on our first Christmas together as a family," he said.
The family celebrates her birthday on April 6 instead of Dec. 25. "We trade the date of her birthday with His," Bishop Brown explained. That reminds the family that much of what is known about the Savior has come by revelation through prophets of the Restoration - including the exact day of His birth.
Another way the Brown family focuses on Christ at Christmas is to serve Him by serving others, thus applying His counsel: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matt. 25:40.)
"This year, my oldest friend is dying of AIDS," Bishop Brown said. "Our family is very much aware of his circumstances, because he stayed for a time at our home. His family has abandoned him; he only has me. We took him a Christmas tree. The only Christmas he'll have this year is what we give him."
In that way, members of the Brown family feel they are giving a gift to Him whose birthday they celebrate.